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Carrie Fisher and Manic Depression

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Perhaps one of manic-depression's best-known champions, the writer and actress shows us how she wrangles her many moods.

Perhaps one of manic-depression's best-known champions, the writer and actress shows us how she wrangles her many moods.CARRIE FISHER'S DRUG USE WAS A WAY TO "DIAL DOWN" THE MANIC IN HER. "I WANTED TO PUT THE MONSTER IN THE BOX. DRUGS MADE ME FEEL MORE NORMAL."

"HOW MANIC AM I?" ASKS Carrie Fisher as she climbs around her hillside with a potted plant. Dressed in a sleek black suit, she positions the shrub in an empty spot. "How's that?" Later, she points to a horticulture article highlighting a garden in a rainbow of color. "That's what I want." She confesses that lately, while she's writing, she looks at her garden and gets up to readjust the trees and flowers that are yet to be planted. The garden is her latest obsession.

Fisher is up-front about her manic behavior. At first glance, she doesn't seem any crazier than the rest of us. But when she pulls out her medications, you think again. All the little capsules and tablets--prescription drugs to tame her bipolar disorder--are organized in a weekly container. "Sunday, Monday, Wednesday," she mimics that famous scene from The Godfather.

She takes nearly two dozen pills a day. But recently, she blew off her daytime dosages and the result was a weeklong escapade that ended in a tattoo parlor on the west side of Los Angeles. Her manic side drives her to impulses, and as she notes, "Impulses become edicts from the Vatican." Fortunately, for her sake, two friends accompanied her. "They were concerned about me." And with good reason.

Nearly four years ago, the writer and actress suffered what she calls a "psychotic break." At the time, she was experiencing a deep depression--just getting out of bed to pick up eight-year-old daughter Billie was a major feat. She was also improperly medicated. She ended up in the hospital. There she was riveted to CNN, convinced that she was both the serial killer Andrew Cunanan as well as the police who were seeking him. "I was concerned that when he was caught, I would be caught," she recalls.

Her brother, filmmaker Todd Fisher, feared that he was going to lose her. "The doctors said she might not come back." Awake for six days and six nights, she recalls hallucinating that a beautiful golden light was coming out of her head. Yet the confusing thing about her mania, says Todd, is her ability to remain articulate, clever and funny. Todd says she launched into a Don Rickles-like diatribe, "ripping everyone who came into her room."

Ex-partner Bryan Lourd, who has remained a friend, was by her side. She said to him, "She's in the chair, she let me out. I have to talk to you. I can't take care of Billie on my own."

At the hospital, she couldn't bear seeing her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, and asked that she not visit her. The two remain close--actually, Reynolds bought the house next door.

FISHER ROLLS AROUND ON HER BED and does somersaults. "I have to get out of here," she pleads. We hop into her station wagon and head for the San Fernando Valley. At a garden nursery, we walk up and down the footpaths looking for color. She picks up purple roses and orange star clusters. While she talks about her garden, "I want everything to be right," she is all too aware of her obsessive tendencies. Yet her mania may well be an important part of her brilliance.

The daughter of Reynolds and 1950s crooner Eddie Fisher, Carrie watched her father run off with actress Elizabeth Taylor. "An unpleasant experience," as she puts it. Although she had an absent father, she knows she resembles him in the most worrisome way. She notes that he is an undiagnosed manic-depressive, "He bought 200 suits in Hong Kong, was married six times and bankrupt four. It's crazy."

In her teens, what she wanted most was to be near her mother, so Carrie made her Broadway debut in Irene at age 15. Reynolds was the star of the show. Not long after, Fisher played the scene-stealing nymphet in the movie Shampoo, then she was immortalized as Princess Leia in that metal bikini. Her role in the classic Star Wars trilogy shot her into superstardom.

This kind of celebrity, though, comes with trappings. It was sex, drugs and late-night partying with Hollywood heavies like John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. One night, she was so high Akroyd made her eat. She choked on a Brussels sprout, so he performed the Heimlich maneuver. Then he proposed to her.

Her longtime friend, director and actor Griffin Dunne, says she made partying look fun. "Getting stoned was a part of all our lives when we were younger. Her abuse only became apparent later to me. I told her she was taking too many pills, but of course I was drunk at the time, so I wasn't making a lot of sense."

Marijuana, acid, cocaine, pharmaceuticals--she tried them all. Being on the manic side of bipolar disorder, her drug use was a way to "dial down" the manic in her. In some respects it was a form of self-medication. "Drugs made me feel more normal," she says. "They contained me."

But her addictions were serious. At her worst, she took 30 Percodan a day. "You don't even get high. It's like a job, you punch in," she recalls. "I was lying to doctors and looking through people's drawers for drugs." Such relentless abuse landed her in rehab, at age 28, after she overdosed and wound up with a tube down her throat to pump her stomach. In the end, her misadventures were recounted in her autobiographical novel, Postcards From the Edge.

Writing, her secret ambition, helped her stay focused. Postcards won her wide acclaim. Later still, she continued to gain adulation when she wrote the book's screenplay. The film version, in fact, starred friend Meryl Streep as the drug addicted heroine.